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Short List: Top Picks for the Next CIA Director

Short List: Top Picks for the Next CIA Director

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The unexpected departure of David Petraeus as head of the top U.S. spy agency has opened up an opportunity for the administration to set the course for the CIA for the second Obama term. The following are likely choices for next U.S. top spy.


The Short List:

Michael Morell is the current acting CIA Director – a role he filled in the interregnum between directors Leon Panetta and David Petraeus.

Michael Morell, AP

Michael Morell, AP

Before taking the job in 2010, Morell served as the Director of Intelligence, heading up the CIA’s foreign analysis wing. Morell is a tested — and by some accounts a heavily favored candidate. However Morell is a departure from the Agency’s recent course and would likely shift its emphasis from kinetics back to intelligence analysis. His experience with Asia jibes with the President and current administration’s so-called pivot to Asia.

John O. Brennan , Current Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, could be a contender for the job. Brennan spent nearly 30 years with the CIA. His work, ranging from the Near East to South Asia, gave him the regional backing commensurate with the range of U.S.’s most intense counterterrorism operations.

John Brennan, White House Photo

John Brennan, White House Photo

It would not be Brennan’s first shot at the job. He was a rumored favorite in 2008, but his controversial statements in favor of rendition and accused complicity in torture as an advisor to former CIA Director George Tenet pushed the administration to nominate him for a position with lower barriers to entry. Since then he has been a key figure in the expansive targeted killing campaigns against al Qaeda and its affiliated movements, and a consistent defender of its practical logic. Brennan would be a strong choice for continuity, and maintains the President’s confidence. But he would be as unappealing for those looking to give the CIA a fresh start from its counterterrorism focus. And after a long career in public service, Brennan may prefer retirement to promotion.

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